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Epic day walks in Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is known for its volcanic activity and ski fields. It is also home to Mt Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu and Mt Ngauruhoe, and some of the best walking and tramping trails in the North Island.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most famous track in Tongariro National Park, and though we highly recommend it, countless other trails are also worth mentioning.

Which track is best for you though?

Join us as we introduce you to all of the best walks in the Tongariro National Park. We have something to suit all timeframes and levels of fitness.

⚠️ Pets and drones are not allowed on these walks as you’ll be inside a national park.

A woman facing small hot springs and mountain ranges of Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
Photo: Graeme Murray.

What to expect when walking National Park

Learn more about the first national park opened in New Zealand in 1887, so you’re prepared, whatever walk you choose.

Māori cultural heritage

Tongariro National Park has significant cultural and spiritual ties for Māori – the mountains in particular.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) works alongside cultural leaders to ensure the park is maintained for cultural, spiritual and environmental factors

Local flora and fauna

You will find several species of native trees, plants, birds and insects during your trip to Tongariro National Park.

Bird sightings might include:

  • tūī
  • tauhou (silvereye)
  • kākā
  • whio (blue duck)
  • ruru (morepork)
  • northern brown kiwi
  • toutouwai (North Island robin)
  • pīwakawaka (fantail)
  • miromiro (tomtit)
  • kārearea (New Zealand falcon)
  • pahirini (chaffinch)
  • kākāriki (yellow-crowned parakeet). 

Insects in the national park include:

  • wētā
  • huhu beetle
  • ringlet butterfly
  • cicada
  • many moth species.

A range of vegetation ecosystems exist across the park.

You’ll find:

  • mountain inaka and white daisies in the alpine areas
  • flaxes, rushes and sedges in the wetland areas
  • tussocks on the open grasslands alongside daisies and mountain toatoa
  • mountain beech trees and kaikawaka in forests below the alpine areas
  • red and silver beech trees below the mountain beech tree zones.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) – The most famous hike in Tongariro National Park

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC) is one of the most challenging day hikes in NZ.

It is a 19.4km through-hike, crossing through a saddle located in the Mangetepopo Valley.

You will hike between Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe, passing the Soda Springs, Red Crater and Blue Lake.

We did the tongariro alpine crossing in Nov this year.. spectacular everchanging scenery, I am scared of heights so this was quite a challenge for me and tested me mentally, however both my husband and myself completed it and we were very proud of ourselves!

Chelle Cybulski, NZTT member

Preparing for the TAC

A reasonable level of fitness is required for the hike as you gain (and then lose) nearly 1,200m of elevation via stairs and tracks, with sections of loose rock and scree.

Ensuring your knees and ankles are strong enough for the hike is key to enjoying your day and getting off the mountain safely.

In the winter season, you must travel with a local guide who can provide safety gear, knowledge and experience in adverse conditions. The local operators also know when conditions are dangerous, helping you to stay safe and to prevent a rescue.

⚠️ People need rescuing from the TAC every year, and sadly, people have lost their lives. Ensure you are well-equipped for this tramp.

Photo: Andrew Ross, NZTT member.

Shuttles for the crossing

The Tongariro Crossing is not an in-and-out tramp, so you’ll need a transport solution to make it work. For most people, this will be a shuttle.

During the summer season (Labour weekend in October to 30 April), there is a 4-hour car park time limit at both ends of the track, so you definitely need to book a shuttle during peak season.

These are available from National Park Village, Whakapapa Village and Tūrangi.

We recommend staying in one of these locations, as the TAC can take up to 10 hours so driving to and from a town further away isn’t ideal.

Photo: Andrew Ross, NZTT member.

Gear to wear/take on the TAC

It’s important to have appropriate gear when you walk the Tongariro Crossing.

Hikers wearing jandals (flip flops), board shorts and singlets have been seen on the track. However, this is not ideal clothing due to sun exposure and changeable weather – which can happen in a matter of minutes!

Instead, ensure you have sturdy footwear, a waterproof/windproof jacket, hat, gloves, sunscreen and warm clothing in case the weather changes (and it often does).

The TAC can be extreme. I think walkers need to know that bad weather can be there anytime of the year and it can change very quickly. 3 hours before a whiteout we had blue sky.

Shelley Laban, NZTT member

It’s also important to have plenty of drinking water, food and a fully charged mobile phone.

We also recommend carrying a personal locator beacon (PLB). These can be hired in Whakapapa Village for approximately $30.

Photo: Tina Buick, NZTT member.

Booking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

In October 2023, the Department of Conservation (DOC) created a booking system for the TAC.

At the time of writing this article, there is no limit on the number of people that can undertake the hike each day and no cost to book.

The information they collect gives DOC a better understanding of the number of hikers and the impact they have on the environment.

However, a maximum number of daily hikers could be introduced in the future.

Check for updates before walking

Check the latest information, including weather conditions and any park closures, before attempting to walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Other walks in Tongariro National Park

Though the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the best-known day walk in Tongariro, there are several other walks. These tracks cater to all levels of fitness.

Whether you have 15 minutes to spare or a whole day, these are our favourite walks in the national park.

Did you know? There are also great multi-day walks in this area. The Tongariro Northern Circuit is a 3-4 day Great Walk and the Round the Mountain Track (which takes up to 6 days) are both great choices.

You’ll also notice we talk about ‘return’ walks in New Zealand. Refers to the time or distance in total, walking both in and out. This is also known as a ’round trip’.

Hikes near Whakapapa Village

Whakapapa Village is home to lots of memorable walks.

From short, family-friendly trails, to challenging single-day tramps, you’ll find them all here.

While in the village, we recommend you stop by the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre. There you’ll find weather and track closure information, maps, toilets and much more.

Which walks will you choose though? Let’s take a look at the walks that are easily accessible from Whakapapa Village…

Pro tip: If heading up to the Whakapapa Skifeild, you’ll find yourself passing through Whakapapa Village. You might like to include one of the following short walks.

Whakapapa Nature Walk

This is a 15-minute loop walk located near the Whakapapa Visitor Information Centre.

Though it’s only 300m long, it gives a great preview of the native flora of the national park and passes a sweet little stream.

Plus, it’s suitable for wheelchair users and prams.

Tawhai Falls Track (AKA Gollum’s Pool) – A must-do walk

Another short walk, the Tawhai Falls Walk is one of our favourites in Tongariro National Park.

This family-friendly in-and-out track takes less than 20 minutes return (600m in total), causing through a mountain toatoa and beech forest.

You’ll also enjoy two different waterfall viewing spots, including one that was famously used when filming The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Water cascading down a small waterfall, tumbling over rocks, with trees on the side.

Mounds Walk

The Mounds Walk is another 20-minute walk (but over 360m return).

It shows off the mounds that were formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago and views of the surrounding area from the top of the track.

Ridge Track

At 1.2 km return, and taking about 40 minutes, the Ridge Track is a great option for people who would like to stretch their legs a little more.

The track starts near the Whakapapa Visitor Information Centre, where it then takes hikers through an ancient beech forest. Walkers then emerge into an area of alpine scrublands that offers panoramic views of Mt Ngauruhoe.

Though this track is short, it has a reasonable uphill climb, so we suggest taking a water bottle with you.

Taranaki Falls Track – one of our favourite family-friendly tracks

This is our favourite mid-length trail in Tongariro National Park.

A two-hour loop walk (6 km long), this track offers hikers a range of experiences – from tussock, alpine shrublands and beech forests to lava flows and eroded gullies – and of course, the 20m namesake waterfall.

This loop is made up of a lower and upper track.

These tracks cross several bridge-spanning streams (which are a big hit with kids). They also weave past waterfalls and gorges and treat walkers to great views of Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Tongariro and Mt Pukekaikiore.

Expect to find a number of stairs near the end of the track, so again, we suggest having a drink bottle with you (and plenty of sun protection – especially in the summer).

As you walk, keep an eye and ear out for native birds along the track. You might spot grey warblers, riflemen, pipits, fernbirds and even the occasional skylark.

We just did the Taranaki Falls track & it was beautiful! How kids handled it well too (12, 9 & 5yrs)

Kelly O’Brien, NZTT member

Pro tip: On windy days, the lower track is more sheltered. You can walk in and out on this track if you like.

Or, if you’d like to extend your walk, continue from the falls along the Tama Lakes Track… you’ll find more information about this walk further along this list.

Whakapapanui Track

The Whakapapanui Track is an in-and-out walk. It 6 km long (return) and takes most people about 2 hours to complete.

We love it because it’s home to the endangered whio (blue ducks). These birds are such a treat to see.

The trail follows the Whakapapanui stream and also weaves through a regenerating beech forest.

Though we recommend returning on the same track, the track ends on SH48, so you can walk along the road (or arrange for someone to pick you up).

Silica Rapids Walk

The Silica Rapids Walk is another favourite walk from Whakapapa Village. We love that it shows off the volcanic activity that this region is so known for.

This 7 km loop walk takes approximately 2.5 hours to walk.

It crosses the Whakapapanui Stream and passes through beech forests, shrublands and swampy areas.

Keep an eye out along the boardwalk for koura (freshwater crayfish) in the seepage ponds!

Continue on to the Punaruky Falls before passing alpine herbs and flowers on your way up the hill to the Silica Rapids. Next, you’ll spot an old lava flow which is now covered in tussocks, before reaching Bruce Road (which you’ll follow back to the start of the track).

Silica rapids was a really cool hike, and relatively short if you part at the car park on the road instead of walking from the welcome centre.

Devon Taylor, NZTT member
Photo: Devon Taylor, NZTT member.

Whakapapaiti Valley Track

The first significant walk on this list (aside from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing), the Whakapapaiti Valley Track is a 16 km loop that takes most people between 4 and 5 hours to complete.

The walk can be completed in either direction and includes some of the Silica Rapids Track that we’ve already mentioned.

It offers hikers the opportunity to walk through beech forests and open tussock fields, with spectacular views of the Whakapapiti Valley and surrounding areas.

There is a river crossing on this hike which does not have a bridge, and may be unpassable following rainfall and when the river is high.

Assuming it’s safe to cross though, go for it!

Did you know? Although we’re focusing on day walks in this article, it is possible to sleep overnight at the Whakapapaiti Hut. This serviced hut has 18 bunk beds and does not require bookings.

Tama Lakes Track

Aside from the TAC, the Tama Lakes Track is the longest and most challenging walk on this list – but it’s well worth the effort!

An out-and-back track covering 17.6 km in total, it takes most people 5 to 6 hours to walk. It is also part of the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit, and a continuation of the Taranaki Falls Track – another that we’ve already introduced here.

The trail branches off the Taranaki Falls Track to cross tussock fields and alpine herbfields, before providing stunning views of the Tama Lakes.

These lakes have formed within craters from old volcanic explosions – and they’re quite striking.

Be aware though, this track is exposed to the elements so you should be prepared for sun, wind, rain and cold – really, anything at all!

I loved, loved, loved the Tama lakes walk in Whakapapa. It’s really an easy walk (except the part to the upper lake) just long, but if you start the Taranaki falls loop counter clockwise you get amazing views from the first step on. There were two toilets along the way, just bring your own paper.

Perfect for people like me who weren’t too sure about managing the crossing or the logistics involved but still wanted a good workout 😊

Sabine Brause, NZTT member
Photo: Abigail Naylor, NZTT member.

Hikes near Ohakune

Ohakune is a popular spot for skiers and snowboarders to stay during the ski season. As such, it’s also a well-serviced little town with bars, restaurants, shops and things to do.

While in Ohakune, we recommend picking from the following walking trails…

Mangawhero Falls Walk

If you’re short on time and want an easy walk, the Mangawhero Falls Walk is for you. At just 300 metres return, this walk takes less than 10 minutes.

Don’t let its short length trick you though – located in a native forest and with great views over a 28-metre-high waterfall, this walk is definitely worthwhile.

Rimu Walk

Another quick and easy track, the Rimu Walk is suitable for people in wheelchairs and for young children.

At 1.7 km long, this loop track takes just 15 minutes to walk.

It offers visitors a look at ground ferns and kāmahi trees, as well as large towering rimu trees while meandering along a gentle mountain stream.

With a seat located near the stream, this walk offers a great opportunity for birdwatching and enjoying the peaceful sounds of the forest.

Lake Rotokura Walk

The Lake Rotokura Walk is a beautiful, easy walk. It’s home to a range of native birdlife including tūī, kaka, pīwakawaka and bellbirds, making it a favourite amongst our team.

This loop walk skirts around Lake Rotokura (which is surrounded by beech forests), taking approximately 30 minutes to walk (over 2 km).

On clear days, you can see Mt Ruapehu in the distance.

Mangawhero Forest Walk

Taking an hour to walk, the Mangawhero Forest Walk offers hikers gorgeous forest views. Expect to see kāmahi, broadleaf, five finger, mataī, kahikatea and giant rimu on this 3.4 km loop track.

The track aslo crosses the Mangawhero River and is a popular spot for native birds like the pīwakawaka and tūī.

Waitonga Falls Track

A 1 hour, 20 minute out-and-back hike will get you to the tallest waterfall (39 m) in Tongariro National Park

You will hike through 4 kilometres of beech and kaikawaka forests, and if the weather is kind you will even catch glimpses of Mt Ruapehu and surrounds.

We suggest you also keep an eye out for orchids, sundew and bladderworts on this track.

The Waitonga falls walk is an easy return walk through lovely bush on a very clearly defined track, starting from the road up to Turoa ski field. You also get a beautiful view if you drive to the top of the Turoa road

Wendy Muir, NZTT member

Ohakune Old Coach Road

Old Coach Road is a bit different from the other trails we’ve mentioned on this list… it’s the only one that is also open to cyclists.

Whether you choose to walk or bike, this 15 km track follows an old access trail, designed for coaches carrying passengers and goods. On it, you will experience cobbled roads, steel viaducts, railway bridge remains and a tunnel.

The walk takes between 4 and 5 hours one way, so you’ll need to make a plan – whether you walk part way before turning around, walk the full track in reverse or organise a shuttle to drive you back to the start.

Did you know? Old Coach Road is part of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

Other hikes across the park

Lake Rotopounamu Track

Near Tūrangi, the 20 minute walk to Lake Rotopounamu is a local favourite…. in fact, it’s one that slips under the radar of most travellers.

But now you know about it, we recommend checking it out!

Once you make the short uphill walk to the lake itself (turning left at the junction by the lake), you’ll have opportunities to swim and birdwatch.

We recommend you push on though. The loop around the lake is 5 km long and results in a 2-hour walk, visiting several beaches – just be sure to take your togs (swimsuit).

Historic Waihohonu Hut Track

Further south of Tūrangi, the Historic Waihohonu Hut Track is a 3 hour return hike.

This in-and-out track (6.3 km return) offers hikers a walk through open tussock fields and ancient beech forests, before crossing the Ohinepango stream.

You will pass the new Waihohonu Hut before reaching the historic Waihohonu Hut which was built in 1904 and was used until 1979.

Okupata Caves

Though the Okupata Caves are different from all the other walks on this list (because they’re not strictly a walk), we couldn’t help but include them.

This is a natural limestone cave system, carved by the Okupata stream. It’s home to NZ cave wētā and glow worms, making for a real Kiwi adventure… it’s only recommended for people with caving experience though.

Located 20km from National Park Village, these caves are unmarked and pose a risk of flash flooding during periods of heavy rain, so be sure you’re safe, and if in doubt, turn back.

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